Susan Larson, Ph.D.
Qualia Professor of Spanish
Fulbright Senior Scholar - Spain
After experiencing the rich cultural and linguistic heritage of the American Southwest during her doctoral program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Susan Larson recognized the excellent opportunity to expand and deepen her teaching and research interests when she joined the faculty at Texas Tech University in 2016. She believes it is important to expose her students to the history and social dynamics of the Hispanic world not only through the classroom but also “in the real time and space” of the Lubbock, West Texas, and Spanish-speaking communities. Recently, Dr. Larson was awarded two important international research opportunities, but relishes returning to do more research and writing about the living landscape of West Texas.
Tell us about how you became interested in higher education and what brought you to Texas Tech?
“It was an honor to begin working at Texas Tech University in 2016 and exciting to move to Lubbock after being a professor at the University of Kentucky for many years. I made the change because I wanted to join Texas Tech's dynamic Spanish program, housed in the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures, which is known both for its strong graduate-level research programs that study the many cultures of the Spanish-speaking world as well as its commitment to engaging with and understanding our own Spanish-speaking cultures of West Texas. I did my Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in Tucson and it was there that I first got a taste of how rewarding it is to be a Cultural Studies professor in the U.S. Southwest, where Spanish is a living language spoken every day and an essential part of our collective history.”
“I've been absolutely fascinated with Texas and particularly West Texas history since I moved here six years ago. I come from a family of New Yorkers and Midwesterners, so moving to Texas has been mind-blowing, to put it mildly. West Texas has a radically different landscape and outlook from the places where I have lived and conducted research in the past. My research and my teaching have been closely connected since I began my career, which means that I have always found myself talking about the urban cultures of the Hispanic world with my students and I've had to very actively search for ways to teach meaningful, place-based classes since I first arrived in what is a new region for me. What I have always explored with my students and in my publications is the significant gap between how cities are imagined, planned and built by people in power and how they are actually experienced by everyday folks and represented in literature, film, theater, poetry, photography, film and music. There is a reciprocal tension between these two poles and the kind of push and pull that results is endlessly productive economically, socially and culturally. Lubbock is a city with a deep, rich, highly unique and largely undocumented and underappreciated Mexican-American history and social roots and looking at how they function takes me and my Texas Tech students into truly unexpected directions. I have also been glad in recent years to find an intellectual home in the Lubbock Scapes Collective, an informal, interdisciplinary group of Texas Tech faculty from the School of Communications, the School of Architecture, English and my own program doing collaborative writing on the Lubbock landscape. I'm looking forward to seeing where this work takes me. Last year I accepted two international residential fellowships that took me away from Lubbock for research, but I thought constantly about Lubbock when I was away and made plans for conducting future research and writing about Lubbock. Hispanic West Texas stays with me wherever I go.”
Talk about your involvement with the Fulbright Scholar Program.
“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Spain in the Fall of 2021. During my time there, I worked in Madrid with fellow researchers on the evolution of domestic space through a critical analysis of the media-driven concept of comfort since the early twentieth century. I brought together readings on social housing, modernization, class conflict, the nation, intimacy, the body and the family. This research is meant to unpack the meanings of everything from the aspirational and futuristic interiors of Spanish homes to the hard-hitting critiques of the potential dangers of domestic space found in architectural plans, manifestos and forms of mass media such as advertising, comics, magazines, film and literature. For more than twenty years I have worked with a set of assumptions about public urban space, but COVID-19 forced me --like so many of us-- to shift my perspective inward in order to consider the social history and function of the idea of comfort in private, domestic spaces. It was a great experience to work so closely for such a sustained period last year with professors and students from a variety of academic fields. I got to speak to a number of student groups during my time there and promoted our graduate programs as widely as possible. I say it every chance I get and I'll say it again: Texas Tech's Office of Research is an incredible resource for anyone looking to apply for a competitive fellowship like a Fulbright and their support was key to my proposal being accepted.”
What are your goals and expectations for teaching in the Texas Tech Seville Center next semester?
“The TTU Spanish program is proud of the fact that there will be such a strong presence in Sevilla during the 2022-2023 academic year, with some of the highest enrollments we've seen in quite some time. The recruiting efforts of the Office of International Affairs have paid off and this long-standing program is now solidly on its feet again after the long pandemic. I'll be in Sevilla teaching two courses: one on the history and politics of Spain as represented in film and streaming television series, meant to introduce the students to some of the most important social realities of the country where they will be living; and another on the urban culture of Sevilla, where we will be conducting short group experiments of our own in real, public spaces while we improve our spoken and written Spanish and overall cultural competency. One of my absolute favorite things to do is to introduce students to Spanish culture and history for the first time, in real time and space.”
What advice would you offer to students planning to study abroad?
“My advice to Texas Tech students planning to study abroad is to be sure to surround yourself with people who don't speak English so you get the fullest immersion experience possible. What's more, be sure to leave yourself open to considering what it means to be from the United States as you travel through other parts of the world. When I talk to my students at the end of their study abroad experiences, they inevitably tell me that it wasn't until they lived as foreigners in another country that they truly began to understand what it meant to be from the United States. It is a profound experience to see your own country through the eyes, language and customs of another. That kind of perspective stays with you for a long time and will have a profound impact on you as you figure out what your own values and expectations are both for yourself and for others.”